As delegates gather in Kenya for a United Nations conference to set new targets to reduce fossil-fuel emissions after 2012, many Africans are already experiencing the fallout from global warming. And aid agencies are increasingly looking at challenges in the developing world through the prism of climate change, CARE Australia CEO Robert Glasser tells Crikey.

“Some crises that look like political crises are natural disasters or have contributing causes,” says Glasser. As the tragedy continues to unfold in Darfur, the Sudanese conflict, where farm and grazing lands are being lost to desert, has been flagged by some as the first war influenced by climate change – and the tragedy in Darfur may be a harbinger of the future conflicts, reports The Christian Science Monitor.

Developing countries tend to look at climate change “as a longer term threat, their argument is, ‘we’ve got people dying right now,'” says Glasser. “It’s only recently that the penny’s dropping and they’re realising that these people are dying because of global warming…”

And the frequency and severity of natural disasters is set to increase. “Weather related disasters rose from 200 in year ’93-’97 to 331 per year in the years ’98- 2002,” says Glasser. “Essentially each year over the last decade the total number of people affected has doubled.”

“Population pressures are forcing people to settle in more marginal areas… there’s no where else to settle…Developing countries don’t have the resources to be resilient in environment crises like flooding or drought. They won’t be able to relocate or build dykes or dams,” says Glasser. “They become refugees, and then there’s violence because other people are already established there…”

The theory that climate change will result in resource scarcity that could spark warfare, or ‘resource conflict’, has gained traction in the past decade, with research on the topic commissioned by organisations like the United Nations and the Pentagon.

“CARE has been looking at climate change for a long time but as an issue, it doesn’t resonate loudly in developing countries,” says Glasser. “Governments in developing countries where there’s a lot of poverty are focused on the next year… “

“But if you look at the demographic trends over the next 50 years there will be something like over three billion people added to population… all of that will take place in developing countries, that’s huge increases in population in countries that are already stressed…”

So how can we tell which countries will be hit hard by climate change?

“It’s often useful to look at water” in order to identify the most likely trouble spots, says Glasser. “For example the Mekong river – China is damming the upper reaches of the river.”

“Then there are the tensions in the Middle East. It was King Hussein of Jordan who predicted that the next major war in the Middle East will be over water.”

“Look at the impact of sea level rises on developing countries,” and you can work out which areas will be affected by climate change driven sea level rise, says Glasser. “Look at the Nile Delta…1,400 people crammed into every square kilometre. They rely on farming…ten million people will be displaced by flooding if the sea levels rise…”

“In Bangladesh, 80% of the land is fed by the Bengal river system…there would be a huge impact on the poor of Bangladesh if sea levels rise….”

Glasser says that it’s only now that the developed world has started to make changes to combat global warming, “as it becomes clearer that these extreme weather patterns are the norm rather than the exception.”

“Unfortunately this has come a little late, so we’re preparing ourselves by investing heavily in emergency preparation,” says Glasser. “We’re currently recruiting people, conducting training, and making improvements in emergency response in preparation.”

Peter Fray

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